The Smoke Monster & What Came Next

By: Lauren Thaler  |  Date: June 10th, 2011  |  Category: On Being Parentless  |  Comments: 1 comment »

The day after I posted “Identity Crisis”, I received a text message from someone very dear to me (my future maid-of-honor one day, in fact). She said that she loved my post, and then she paused. “Are you lonely?” she asked with concern.

Loneliness. Throughout my life, I’ve always associated loneliness with unwanted exclusion or purposeful isolation. The former is associated with girl cliques or my U-12 Virginia Olympic Development soccer team when I felt like I was from outer space because I was the only D.C. native and didn’t know what it was like to have a big backyard or to hail from a large public school with a football team. (I grew up in an apartment building, and I think my school’s athletic fate was sealed when the Mighty Grasshopper was selected as our mascot 60 years ago.) And the latter, purposeful isolation, solely associated with that special time of the month. Period. (No pun intended.)

So, am I lonely? Sometimes. But I can tell you that what I feel is A LOT better than the memory of being the only one without a partner for soccer drills…. Shudder.

Loneliness took on a new meaning when my mom got sick. It was less about the emotions wrapped around the concept of seclusion and more about the awareness or consciousness that my mom and I were fighting something much bigger than us. No matter what anyone did to help, the amorphous thing, or – to borrow the enemy’s moniker from one of my favorite TV shows, LOST – The Smoke Monster, could suddenly pull us away from friends without warning and more importantly, totally scare the living crap out of us.

Exhibit A: When my mom passed out in my lap with her eyes open. Scary.

Exhibit B: Watching the aforementioned TV show in my friend’s Philadelphia apartment on a Friday afternoon, completely at ease and basking in the sun of my close business school friendships when my mom called to say that the chemo stopped working. I was on a train to D.C. 30 minutes later, and I never finished watching that episode. I had my own personal Smoke Monster to fight.

With my mom no longer around, The Smoke Monster has disappeared. Loneliness now manifests itself when I acutely miss my mom. Mostly when I yearn to share something very special with her or when I’m dealing with hardship and crave her (and only her) unconditional support. I recognize the selfishness in this, and that actually makes me feel better.

Loneliness aside, I think it’s only fair that I also tell you why and when I’m not lonely. Sure, it’s the social plans, the fun San Francisco “family” dinners with my boyfriend, his brother and sister-in-law, daily phone calls with close friends and highly anticipated vacations or trips. It’s also being able to talk openly and freely about my family situation, my mom’s illness and the burden I carried while I was in business school.

But there’s something else that makes me feel the LEAST lonely. Something that makes me feel rich with connection, understanding and extraordinary closeness with my loved ones. What I’m describing is my ability to find humor with others in what I’ve been through and in my everyday parentless existence. Maybe laughter is cathartic or maybe I have a slightly twisted sense of humor, but either way, these jokes feel great. The more unexpectedly hilarious – verging on inappropriate but not totally going the distance – the better. And it’s not as difficult to hit upon this stuff as you may think.

The best part is being able to share these jokes with my peeps – friends and family who understand this side of me and can appreciate it and find comfort in it themselves – whether I am relating a funny experience or we are instinctively responding to something uproarious together.

For example: When I moved to San Francisco, I was at a wedding shower. I met many people at the party, and when a new acquaintance learned I moved all the way from the east coast he said, “Wow, well, that must have really sent your parents to their graves.”

My friend and I looked at each other, and then immediately erupted in laughter. I mean, come on, right? That was a lay-up. Pretty hilarious.

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One Reader Comment

  1. Alva Lee

    Oh, Lauren, even though I am MUCH older than you, and even though I’ve not been in your situation (I almost have too much family!), we do share the same sense of humor. I laughed out loud at the wedding shower comment! Inappropriate, unintended humor. Love it!

    I found your blog through the Happiness Project and am reading every post. The reason your writing resonates with me is that I visit a 29-year-old ALS friend (not patient!) every week. I see how she hates losing her identity, fights for every bit of independence she can hold on to, loves and laughs even as she weakens. Your last post helped me to help her. Thank you for that. I look forward to reading how you progress through the life you have been given. Bless you!

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